Category Archives: Theatre

Review As You Like It, Taking Flight Theatre Company by Young Critic Hannah Goslin.

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As You Like It

Taking Flight Theatre Company

Thompson Park

18/06/2014

In this beautiful weather that Cardiff has been blessed with recently, the beginning of outdoor theatrical activity is very much welcomed. The first example of this so far sees Taking Flight Theatre Company taking over Thompson Park to bring us a Shakespearian favourite.

In the sun spots of the park, we are treated to a story about the daughter (Rosalind) of a banished Duke and her love at first site meeting with a gentleman called Orlando. The Duke’s brother has a sudden change of heart and banishes Rosalind, soon with her cousin Celia in toe. The women decide to run away to the forest where Rosalind’s father lives in exile. In the meantime, Rosalind dresses as a man and Celia takes on a new persona also. In a chance meeting, Orlando and Rosalind meet, and still dressed as a man, Rosalind plots to help Orlando with his intentions to woo her. Many encounters of confusion arise in this comical plot and Rosalind can be the only one to rectifies the situations.

Taking Flight began the show with audience interaction. Throughout, this was used but in subtle ways, whether this be a glance or use of audience for prop or even referrals to them. In this promenade performance, these subtle actions worked well to compliment the audience in the action and invited us to be involved. This even began with pre-show interaction in what was set out as a shabby circular staging area. Minimal set and props were used through the show, which was very appropriate as the acting was given space to stand out. The surrounding park area was effectively used as the stage, with a great use of levels in the trees and upon valley parts, pathways and hills.

The company brought a bit of personalisation to the piece with the actors use of musical abilities – the performers played a range of instruments and performed their own written songs for the production. This helped to break scenes and move the audience as well as provide elements of comedy. The folksy sounds also gave the performance a lovely summer feeling as well, especially in such a lovely setting.

For a substantial sized company, the use of doubled up characters was still effectively possible. Those who played more than one part were given a change of costumes, all costumes of which were of fantastic, bohemian quality, and easily managed to change characters. At times, it was a mystery to whether the actor was the same as the change of performances were so convincing. For a Shakespearian comedy, the facial expressions, gestures and movements were conducted in exaggerated fashion as would have been in the writers age, but not too much as they would have had to compensate for lack of light – all actors managed this with enough emphasis to bring comedy and to put across the narrative well.

Hijinx theatre company also had a fantastic involvement in the production. The joining of the two companies involved performers from Hijinx in both performative ways as well as ushering. This involvement evidently meant a great deal to those involved who enjoyed the comedy and to share a piece of the music and dance elements. A sign interpreter was also used which was great to see, opening many more possibilities; she was also integrated into the performance itself rather than a separate entity, including the final song’s dance moves, elegantly gesturing sign language to illustrate the song, and this was taught to the performers to create a lovely, happy and comical crescendo.

Overall, this show is fun filled and a great way to introduce Shakespeare to the young. In such great weather, Thompson Park is a great place to see this production and the company use this well to also introduce you to this great space. If wishing to attend, I would only say to not bring a lot (including deck chairs and such) as this promenade performance will move you quite a bit and did see a few audience members carrying much around with them, but plenty of safe access is possible for wheelchairs, despite this.

 

 

 

Review Rock Pool Sherman Theatre by Hannah Goslin

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Rock Pool

Inspector Sands and China Plate

Sherman Theatre

30/05/14

In the Sherman’s second theatre, we delved under the sea where we were treated to a blown up version of sea life. The blue light and sound of bubbles and water immersed us into a tranquil and yet excited state; urged to sit as close to the action as possible, children were sat on cushions on the floor and a mixture of adults and children further back, in usual seats in this modernised amphitheatre.

Rock Pool is a tale of Crab and Prawn, who, through a freak storm are thrown together from the ocean to a small rock pool where they are forced to bond together. In this small space, Crab becomes hungry very often, resulting in trying to eat Prawn who reluctantly shares her lunch with Crab to salvage herself. Through this, they play games and live life, waiting for another wave to take them back home.

The production used basic lighting in the form of white washes and this becoming dimmed for night-time – spotlights were also used along with a big splash sound and the use of stools to climb upon to signify when they both look out the top of the rock pool towards the sea. This simplicity was really effective for a children’s show, focussing of the animated acting in front of us instead of fancy light effects.

The characters of Prawn and Crab were very well executed – Prawn (Lucinka Eisler) a tall, well postured character, came across as a geeky, intelligent and pristine figure, dressed in a combination of stripy pink, grey and white clothing, a see through rain mac and a fun, pink head-piece. Eisler kept her posture very strong and upright, with small arms with fiddly fingers to emphasise a Prawns legs. Crab (Giulia Innocenti) was in smaller statue and contorted herself into a ball-like figure. Wearing a red helmet which she banged when talking about how hard she was, this was nicely followed with a comical ‘ouch’ in return and red gillet to beef her out. In comparison to Prawn, she was a less intelligent and less knowledgeable creature. Innocenti’s movements were squat, sideways, with crab like hands, a posture which she managed to keep throughout. With this contrast, they were able to bond with teaching one another and having fun through the process. Both actors worked well as a team, with over exaggerated facial expressions and almost melodramatic movements, they brought the piece to life. They also professed very good improv skills to interact with the audience and play upon suggestions given.

Comedy was provided throughout for both adults and children. Examples of these being, Crab’s attempts to eat Prawn with BBQ tongs – the moment when water is desperately needed to stop Prawn from cooking in the shrinking rock pool, resulting in lots of water play, splashing the nearby audience with this as well as the constant use of human objects and items to bring more understanding to the audience, helping with a comical moment of Crab’s boredom where she dresses and acts like a ‘lady’.

The bitter-sweet ending where Crab and Prawn return to the sea, yet whose friendship is now torn apart by reality gave us a sense of sadness and but hope with knowing that anyone can bond for even a split second. We are revived after this by a song and dance at the end; a technique we were also treated throughout with the lovely singing voices of both actors, showing their collaboration and budding friendship again in their own small ‘rock group.’

For a children’s show, I found myself laughing and enjoying every moment, along with many other adults whose, perhaps, like myself, childhood’s were revisited.

Review: Equus – Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff by Sam Pryce

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Review: Equus – Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

Reviewed by Sam Pryce

In this bare-boned, minimalist production, the ideas and themes of Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play of a boy’s profound worship of horses are put to the forefront. The play is not upstaged by any ostentatious dance interludes nor shadowed by innovative set pieces. This company provide a stripped-back, viscerally passionate performance of a play rife with psychological depth and emotional complexity.

Although one can delve into an intricate analysis of the motives of each character, the plot is fairly simple when laid bare. Martin Dysart, an initially cynical psychiatrist, is given the task of taking on Alan Strang, a 17 year-old boy who blinded six horses with a metal spike. On probing Strang’s intentions, Dysart is bewildered to comprehend him when learning of his conflicted familial life – a Marxist father fully informed of the world’s injustice and a devoutly religious mother eager to teach Strang the enriching security of ‘worship’, something that Dysart envies. As Strang becomes more and more frank as the sessions progress, the psychiatrist begins to contemplate his own sanity and realises the tragedy of his sexless marriage and absence of compassion. What emerges is a fascinating, multi-faceted and disturbing study of the human mind.

With a play so rich in emotion, it requires some accomplished actors. Passionate, powerful performances are given by the two leads: Steven Smith magnificently depicts the anguished, troubled genius of Dysart while Henry Nott superbly unsettles with his cold stare racked with perturbed purity. Under Thomas Hockey’s direction, the relationship progresses from firstly icy and distant to fervently parental. Other notable performances are given by Paul Fanning and Trish Gould as Strang’s taciturn parents, Trish Murphy as the concerned magistrate, Angharad Hodgetts as the seductive stable-girl, Alexander Wilson as a few comical characters and James Sidwell as the subject of the boy’s infatuation, portraying equine splendour with startling accuracy.

Equus can be seen to explore themes ranging from religious corruption to repressed sexuality, even the coming-of-age and adolescence. And yes, all these themes may sound slightly intimidating, but the emotional stamina of the cast, the meticulousness of the direction and the nuanced choreography ensure a gorgeously disturbing experience. It’s a splendid revival and surely one to see before the week is out.

And just to close, with all that shouting, let’s hope the actors’ voices don’t get too hoarse! (Sorry, I had to.)

Review Unknown Pleasure’s Symposium and 3rd year final show ‘Ignorance’ by Hannah Goslin

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University of Wales, Trinity Saint David, Swansea

Unknown Pleasure’s Symposium and 3rd year final show ‘Ignorance’

Townhill Campus and Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea.

18/05/2014

As a graduate from the performing arts course in Swansea, I was invited along to a symposium with the final project title, Unknown Pleasures. My encounter with the project was a practical exploration in the marketing and events management field the year before for the children’s show Skellig

Unknown Pleasures is a final project idea for the last year students of the course originally designed by Volcano Theatre Company. The concept of the project is to team up with a Welsh based practitioner to create an explorative piece, in joint venture with the Taliesin Arts Centre. The pieces have ranged from site specific, to campus based and this year, based at the centre itself.

The symposium took a look at many research factors that are being divulged in the performing arts industry. Papers from academics such as Dr Sarah Evans, a lecturer at University of Wales, Trinity Saint David on a women’s based event and the engagement of the participants and the facilitators duty and effort to overcome this; Martin Johnson, also a lecturer at UWTSD on the educational system and the challenges this faces for being a creative practitioner; Jason Benson, another lecturer at UWTSD on his PhD of disturbance in theatre, based on Volcano theatre company and it’s ability to seek individual freedom of expression and Kris Darby from Liverpool Hope on technology based performances explored in schools. We were also treated to talks from Mess up the Mess and Theatr Fforwm Cymru on their projects and endeavours in the community, Zoe Jarvis on the community aspect of my Swansea based project, Creative Bubble of which I conceived and continue working on from over a year ago and the director Gerard Tyler on the production of Ignorance.

These speakers all gave interesting and very creative outlooks on different subjects, raising many questions, rhetorical and answerable as well as, personally, gave inspiration to myself as a performer.

This was accompanied by two performances by academics, Declan Patrick from Liverpool Hope and Daniel Hunt from University of Lincoln. Both very different performances; Patrick showed the desire and pain that dancers experience and the concept of the desired and desiring body of the student. Using contemporary dance moves, contrasted with a vulnerability his balance, Patrick opened himself as a performer, questioning the student/teacher relationship in the creative world and how vulnerable this should be. Using only a chair and his own body, the minimalistic nature of this performance was interesting in the sense that nothing was needed – Patrick was the performance, the props and the set.

Hunt began his piece in an energetic and elevated way. As audience members, we entered and stood in the space in silence, waiting for the show to unfold, with only a table of wine and orange juice and further into the space a lit table and chairs facing one another – however, this was not the case. Hunt encouraged us to bring an energy sensed upstairs during a coffee break, encouraging chat and drinking to ensue. This on a non-performance level was interesting in order to meet and speak new people, soon becoming aware that two of our audience members had become participants in the corner in what seemed a personal moment of light contact and hugs. To look felt intrusive yet awareness of what was happening was, for me, at a high. However, other audience members felt different or didn’t notice at all, not even when some were taken to help lift the participants at intervals along the room. One member of the audience decided to involve themselves and felt, on reflection, a sense of community from this – being able to make contact with another human that we normally avoid. This difference of community and ignorance was an interesting concept for creative’s such as ourselves to evaluate the audience as human’s and that the performance is still just, even if being ignored.

 

Ignorance

‘I wanted to make a sci-fi theatre show that wasn’t a parody… and wasn’t shit’ – Gerard Tyler

Making my way to the Taliesin, I was already aware from Gerard Tyler’s talk earlier in the day that this was unlike any other Taliesin show – sight specific despite using a stage, there would be an element of performance beginning in the foyer/area surrounding.

Awareness of the show beginning was evident in several performers walking around us in the coffee area holding envelopes and giving them to bystanders waiting for the show. Immediately, this began a conversation between us of curiosity and somewhat, need for an envelope just to satisfy this. I felt that these performers ranged in ability – some seemed in a character from the moment they entered the space and didn’t break this till the very end of the entire show and others seemed to drift in and out, leaving myself feeling as if this was half-hearted. This also was supported by the, from what later was revealed as the ‘ranger’ characters sitting in what looked like discussion in character form, to actually discussion about what they were about to do as performers as well as performers panicking about the amount of participants, then breaking character to ask audience members to help with this, breaking the illusion that they had seemed to originally convey.

Split into groups, we were given warnings and spoken to in a careful manner, showing that we were entering into a world of risk. Taken outside to the back of the building, we waited, looking at a man with a hose splashing an outer door. On reflection, the wait made sense with different groups and the different communication; what we entered into being played over several times and effectively, we were waiting for this to finish for previous groups. On entering the building through the water and being dried by large fans, we were aware that our entrance was as much a performance as the performers were; coming onto the back of the stage, performers ran up to us and began speaking and touching us, despite ourselves being on strict instructions not to do the same, with the awareness that previous audience members were sat on the stage or in the seats, looking at us. This voyeuristic nature was also supported by large television screens with a CCTV aspect, where these audience members had been watching us during their own encounters with the performers.

We had entered, what would seem as an apocalyptic safe house – CCTV, brick o brack making up the interior of the safe house, a small garden and these creatures in human form and human clothing, who’s abilities ranged from simple, almost child-like husks of humans to a normal intelligence. For myself, I wasn’t sure about this change in ability, as it seemed at times the most simple of aspects were hard to grasp but at others, their knowledge was intelligent.

The set itself, dim lighting and extra terrestrial sound was spectacular – the feeling that you see in horror and sci-fi films where they choose to save themselves in something known yet desolate was executed well – a theatre that we know or can at least sympathise with being changed to house these simple beings and us. The element of fear was still given to us in the form of not going outside, the harm that the rain [hose] could give us and the outsiders that were spoken of getting in or following was conveyed by the rangers who seemed to believe in the story with other rangers still lacking in this execution and the group of creatures who’s response to these aspects was of terror. Then the contrast of this, knowing the door was locked and that we were safe, the serenity of the creatures after fearful moments, gave a rollercoaster feeling that you would have in such a dangerous, alien world.

Eventually, the rangers made hiccups. There was someone new looking at the CCTV, when the creatures were enjoying their sunlight to keep their pigment at a normal consistency and stuck in a trance from this that they could not wake from, the rangers breaks and allowance of going outside with no fear, began to confuse us – was this still a safe house and if so, how come they had no fear of the outside world? A rogue creature and their love for DVD’s during the break when she wasn’t tranced by the sunlight and the rangers away from the scene, was comical and gave a nice interlude to the heavy nature of this world, until she sees herself outside… why is she outside in the fearful world? Chaos ensues, doors are open and the reality is revealed – the hose of rain is an illusion for these creatures, they are in fact copies.

We are finally greeted by a man in a new suit, entering in an authoritative manner – a contrast to the uncoordinated clothing and submissive manner of the creatures. His manner would make him seem as if he is the bad guy, keeping this group in this place and not allowing them to be in the real world. But his explanation was to look after these ‘copies’ of other humans and the cruelty of the outside world, and now with police on the way, we could no longer buy these copies, which is the reason we were meant to be there, but take them home for free – an uneasy feeling of being given a human as a form of slavery or like a pet.

Leaving the theatre, this specific actors performance left you questionable as to whether his actions were of good intentions or cruel to these creatures. Performers continued their performance into the surrounding area for another 20 minutes, never breaking this illusion which was a nice contrast to the beginning.

The momentary confusion, the fear and relief we felt such as the creatures and realisation of reality at the end provoked interesting concepts about the future if we were to enter these fictional Sci fi worlds and while, as already said, this is only fiction, I must give credit to the community of creatures for their undeniable conveyance of this, making us as audience members feel the same thoughts and emotions throughout.

Review Gym Party at Chapter Arts Centre by Hannah Goslin

Gym Party by Made in China at Summerhall, Edinburgh

Gym Party

Made in China

Chapter Arts Centre

16/05/2014

Upon entering the performance space at Chapter the proscenium framing the stage immediately said to  the audience  fun, disco music and 3 names in huge lights gave the feeling that we are indeed in the ‘party’ aspect of the Gym Party. Settling into our seats, the performers entrance with a quirky dance instantly gave the sense of comedy and that we were about to see something fun and exciting.

Three performers with no specific gender at first, looked a little like disco Tim Henman’s dressed in  white tennis gear and bright, colourful and similar wigs these complimented the stage with their simplicity, which was very effective – we were then able to focus on the actions and words.

Joined together in their group, they began to speak to us, introducing themselves, their outlook on us and the world and finishing each other’s sentences with no break or falter. As a performer, the knowledge of trying to perfect this is always difficult and it was extremely admiring to see how well they executed this. Audience interaction was immediate – asking of audience members names and referring to them in their views of the world which gave a sense of individuality for the audience, until the character of Chris established that to him, we would be referred to as ‘the group.’

The contrast of individualism and community was a running theme – the three performers loved one another and were close as a group; they share, converse and communicate as a group but as individuals, they are each better than each other, and the Gym Party competition was how they showed this. The back and forward notion that they spoke in, from community to how good they were as individuals imitated what we think in society – that we want to work as teams, and think that we enter into this in a fair and innocent way but in any situation, we do this to try to show how good we are, to show that we are different to others, that we are an individual. Gym Party’s aim is to highlight this through comedy and games.

Gym Party consists of 3 scenes in repetition – the interludes I spoke of above, the games and the consolations for the losers. With three games, these sequences are repeated approximately three times (for three rounds of games) yet, this is never boring – each time we are given something new, a new game, a new story or new consolation prize. This is always energetic and keeps the audience interested and on their toes.

The games themselves are ridiculous and hilarious. Firstly we see games such as audience throwing skittles at the performers to catch, head stands and marshmallow eating – contrasts of pain, disgust and comedy all in one set to evoke different emotions from the audience. The more the show goes on, the more we see the vulnerability that they are trying to convey about themselves and us; the second and third games utilising this by showing the vulnerability of us as humans and making the audience chose winners by voting on ‘who do you think’ questions, asked by an ominous being through sound and evidently, to the performers obvious surprise, random ideals such as ‘who do you think is the best kisser.’ This impromptu execution of the questions was interesting to see how the performers recovered with reaction and action on the spot, however there were times where they seemed to lose this professionalism and broke the performance barrier, showing their true selves. While at times this was funny to see their humanity, it slightly broke the illusion of performance. The audience choice in the third game of who gets to have the ‘last dance’ as it were also showed this idea of choice, vulnerability and need to be liked.

While these comical moments gave great entertainment to us as audience members, we were soon shocked to see that the consolation prizes were of horrible moments, illustrating our extreme cruelty to ourselves. Ranging from beating themselves, to publicly humiliating one another’s personalities and looks to drowning each other in water. These moments broke the comical value, bringing the audience back to reality and how while we may want to work as a team, as Jess the character says, we will still ‘grind each other to dust.’

We were soon brought back to comedy and happiness with the ‘contestants’ elaborate and unprofessional dance routines to cheesy disco music. The use of this, the lights, the use of microphone to thank the audience after a win, Chris’s musical interlude with playing a song ‘Evelong’ by Foo Fighters to highlight a memory, and highlight an audience’s memory gave the feel of a game show, and so the positive and negative contrasts made this game show a cruel conveyance of reality.

Review Things We Do For Love New Theatre, Cardiff by 3rd Age Critic Barbara Michaels

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Things We Do For Love  New Theatre, Cardiff

Writer: Alan Ayckbourn

Director: Laurence Boswell

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

Rating:  [3.8]

A multi-layered romp – in more ways than one – Things We Do For Love was first staged in 1997.    The humour, and the dark edge behind it, are still relevant today, as indeed can be said of all of Ayckbourn’s plays.  Bedroom farce – yes, and you may choose to take it at its face value.  It is, indeed, a bedroom farce par excellence, as one would expect from one of Britain’s master playwrights.    But in fact there is much more to it than that – it could in some respects more correctly be classified as a tragic-comedy for that is what it is in the end.  For this reason, it is a piece that needs an expert hand on the tiller if it is to succeed.  Director Laurence Boswell shows his mettle with this revival by Theatre Royal Bath Productions, a good understanding of Ayckbourn and whence the piece is coming.

On the surface a light, at times raunchy, comedy, and staged on a single set throughout, there is much to laugh at as the characters lurch from one relationship to another in a romantic whirlwind of a plot..  The set, that of a middle floor flat of a converted house owned occupied by the elegant and glacial Barbara, allows the audience to see into both the flat above and the flat below.   While Barbara resides in lonely splendour on the middle floor, the upstairs apartment is the perfect bolthole for Nikki, Barbara’s old school friend, and her fiancé Hamish, while the downstairs room is occupied by Gilbert, a part-time postman and amateur plumber man who lusts after his ice maiden of a landlady in a somewhat unconventional way.  Feelings change and relationships crumble as the plot develops and the characters reveal their true selves.

As Barbara, Claire Price gives us a believable, no nonsense career girl who has no time for men let alone romance and slides seamlessly into portraying the love-stricken, not to mention energetic in the bedroom and elsewhere, and abandoned female which she becomes.   This is all due to her falling, big-time, for Hamish notwithstanding the fact that he is engaged to Nikki, avowedly her best friends since their school days. As Hamish, Edward Bennett looks suitably uncomfortable in the immaculate surroundings of Barbara’s flat while managing to project as a sort of male arm candy for whom women (literally) fall.

Making her stage debut, Natalie Imbruglia looks suitably fragile as Nikki, playing her as the stereotypical helpless-little-woman, irritating at times and yet managing to enlist sympathy and help from everyone including downstairs neighbour Gilbert.  Simon Gregor shows his expertise in this role, with evident relish and giving it full throttle.  The zany Gilbert has his dark side, and Gregor is adept in showing this beneath the banter.

This is classic Ayckbourn, showing us that what we see is not always what we get.  Things We Do For Love will strike a chord in many ways.  Ayckbourn’s cynical view is that love knows no boundaries and he is, of course, right.

Runs until Saturday May 17th

 

Review Hot Flush New Theatre, Cardiff by Barbara Michaels, Third Age Critic

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Hot Flush New Theatre, Cardiff

Writer: Julie Benson

Lyrics & music: Olly Ashmore

Director: Alan Cohen

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels, Third Age Critic

Rating: {3.5]

Some twenty years since her one man show at London’s Festival Hall, Lesley Joseph is doing it again – in a manner of speaking, that is. For Hot Flush, billed as “The naughtiest musical in town,” is not actually a one woman show. Lesley’s co-stars – Matt Slack, Anne Smith, Ruth Keeling and Lori Haley Fox – all have important roles to play, but the focus is on Joseph, in the central character of Myra, a barrister, and a successful one to boot, coping with the menopause and a rat of a husband who leaves her for a blonde bimbo. Much hilarity ensues as, with the help of her friends, also dealing with their own mid-life crises, an ever more desperate Myra tries to put back her biological clock.

Ever since she tottered on impossibly high heels onto our TV screens as man-eater Dorien Green in the hit comedy series Birds of a Feather, Joseph has played to packed audiences wherever there are women – or should I say girls – looking for a good night out. In Cardiff, as elsewhere, women dominated the audience. At the age of 69, can she still cut the mustard? The answer is yes, she can. With a sense of comedy timing that is spot on, Joseph gives her all – and That Walk is still unmistakeable.

However, despite a gut feeling that this across-genre piece is basically a vehicle for Joseph to showcase her undoubted talent, and a somewhat clichéd plot line, Hot Flush has some deper themes – errant husbands being only a part of a larger picture. These themes become more evident in the second act which is, to my mind, a great improvement on the first half where strident sound levels drowned out some of the lyrics. The best musical numbers, several of which rely on familiar tunes, are a welcome feature of the second half, which gets off to a flying start as the talented Matt Slack who, as the man in the cast, plays all the male roles, takes centre stage..

He does so with a perceptible relish and expertise that makes his every entrance a joy, and forms a great foil to the women’s antics. Jokes –many of them cruder than those heard on a building site – come thick and fast, although some of the more subtle anecdotes went unnoticed on the first night in Cardiff. Writer Julie Benson’s intention was to extend her original book about the female menopause into a musical about women who were going through a stressful time in their lives, but was funny – and in that she succeeds. If you are looking for a night out with the girls, it’s fine. But don’t take your maiden aunt.

Run: Thursday & Friday, April 24th and 25th

Review Twelfth Night at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff by Third Age critic Barbara Michaels.

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Twelfth Night at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

Writer: William Shakespeare

Production by Filter Theatre in association with the RSC

Director Sean Holmes, redirected by Oliver Dimsdale & Ferdy Roberts

Rating: [4.OO]

Review by Third Age critic Barbara Michaels.

Opening with a cacophony of sound, accompanied by a robust rendering of “If music be the food of love, play on,” Filter Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, is raucous, lively and highly comedic. If the intention was to shock those who prefer their Shakespeare in more traditional style, then it succeeds.

This is a radical interpretation of the original comedy of unrequited lover and mistaken identity in the fictional land of Illyria – where all is not as it seems. Both innovative and clever, the production relies on the interaction of cast on stage (and, some of the time, seated in the audience too) and audience – plus musical backing or, rather, participation. There are times when it is possible to have too much of a good thing and, despite being performed by accomplished musicians and an integral part of the whole, it would benefit the production overall if the music was not quite so full on. All in all, it’s something of a miracle that the wonderful language and poetry of Shakespeare’s comedy still manages to surface with a golden liquidity that catches at the heartstrings.

Which it does, somewhat amazingly perhaps, given that the whole is interspersed with modern gadgetry such as synthesisers and mobile. Several of the small team of actors are case in dual roles, in addition to the more usual modus operandi of this being applicable only to the twin sister and brother Viola/Sebastian, whose story of lost and found is central to the plot. Sarah Belcher plays both these roles, switching dexterously between the masculine and the feminine in posture as well as tone.

This is, however, not always the case with the rest of the cast, although Natasha Broomfield does pretty well with Maria and the fool Feste, the latter role being clarified by a fool’s cap and some throwing of coloured balls between stage and audience – a tad too pantomimic for my liking. The complexity of the story is such that those who are not familiar with the play may struggle to work out which character is speaking at times – particularly in the case of Jonathan Broadbent’s double act as Orsino and Sir Andrew Aguecheek.

Liz Fitzgibbon’s Olivia is a delight. Along with her considerable ability as an actor, Fitzgibbon has a fine singing voice. Displaying considerable talent as well as a spread of hair-free torso, Fergus O’Donnell as Malvolio throws himself into the part with an insouciance and gay abandon that has him capering about the stage in a pair of golden speedos. One has to give Filter marks for originality, along with the proviso that sometimes less is more.

Review The World of Work “catch this work of unhinged brilliance” Young Critic Sam Pryce

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The World of Work – Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

Reviewed by Sam Pryce

This wasn’t strictly a play – more of an out-of-body experience. Or at least that’s what it felt like. The aptly named Difficult Stage have brought us a black comedy of failure from the delightfully disturbed mind of Katy Owen. Presumably autobiographical, this hilariously dark reverie through Katy’s psyche comprises a birthday celebration, an acapella sing-off, a rather profane episode of The Archers and a minstrel (not the confectionery kind). Unlike anything you’ll ever see ever again in your life ever, The World of Work is an evening of utter absurdist hysteria. In fact, it’s so vibrantly original, I can guarantee that every critic will struggle trying to put it into words; alas, I’ll try my best.

Hemmed in by a jungle of potted plants and tasteless furniture, we find ourselves as guests to Katy’s birthday party welcomed by a charmingly witty Ben Tyreman who plays Neil, intermittently offering cheese to front row audience members (there’s a tip for any cheese-loving punters – nab a front row seat). Along with Neil, another of Katy’s motley crew is François Pandolfo playing an out-of-work, out-of-mind actor who’s penned what he believes to be a ground-breaking new play about Aborigine Australians moving to the Valleys (a performance of which is given as a painfully funny climax). And last but not least, Lisa Palfrey steals the show as the, shall we say, unstable Aunty Andrea guzzling vodka and yelling vulgarities.

The narrative is fragmented through discussions of Katy’s failures over the years – her bit-part inCasualty, her… Well, actually, that’s about it. Owen seems to be pleading for recognition of her impractical talents for mimicking demented leprechauns. In an attempt to console herself, through a mist of liquor, she lists of the failures of her guests and so grows to the point that we are all let-downs, and it’s those who can make something of it that succeed.

Though Lisa Palfrey’s virtuosic set of accents and deranged farcicality earns many guffaws, the comic timing is consistent throughout the company. With the addition of Jamie Garven’s direction, the audience are left with creased faces and damp seats.

What is reassuring though is a total absence of pretension – this is a play that ultimately has a heart and a truth to it, a genuinely optimistic love for behaving badly. With the brand ‘absurdist’ comes many presumptions, but the originality of Difficult Stage bypasses the label. You have until Saturday to catch this work of unhinged brilliance. I suppose, yes, your sanity will diminish slightly after you’ve seen it, but you’d be raving mad to miss it.

Review: ROGUE’Z Theatre – The Winter Gift at the Urdd Hall, Cardiff by Young Critic Sam Pryce.

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Review: ROGUE’Z Theatre – The Winter Gift at the Urdd Hall, Cardiff

Reviewed by Sam Pryce

Apparently, there is no Garbo, and there is no Dietrich; there is only Louise Brooks. That’s according to French film pioneer Henri Langlois, and he should know his stuff. Louise Brooks is probably a name that doesn’t ring any bells. Indeed, it didn’t ring any of mine either. Her legacy remains something quite obscure, partly due to her contemporaries being the gloriously immodest likes of Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. Yet, in this fond but frank portrait of the silent screen icon, award-winning writer TJ Davies attempts to discover what went wrong for “the girl with the black helmet.”

Director Nerys Rees presents a stripped-down production with a minimalist set that cunningly incorporates the monochrome palette of silent films. The cinematic atmosphere is enhanced through the integration of projection intermittently showing snatches of footage – some of Brooks herself, others made by the company. Lizzie Mulhall’s costume, hair and make-up  by Natalie Wright compliment that black-and-white sophistication and pre-show introductions to the dramatis personae are thrown in for good measure.

The narrative flits back and forth from the feisty, fresh-faced Louise Brooks in her heyday (played with fire-cracking audacity by Rhian Cheyne) to the destitute, alcoholic recluse she became. Karen Thomas gives a reckless portrayal of this darker side, slumping about the apartment yelling in a hoarse rasp. Andreas Constantinou brilliantly plays the devoted fan James Card who visits Louise, pleading her to write her memoirs and allow the world to realise her worth. It is these duologues that prove the most engaging and well-written, sizzling with venomous ruckuses, whilst the vignettes from the past tend to have us stifling yawns. Other notable performances are given by: Louisa Marie Lorey who is monstrously funny as the eccentric Alice Roberts; James Pritchard as the silver-tongued Shulbberg; Andrew Ford as a comically deadpan Fritz Kortner; and Brian Smith as GW Pabst – the director who brought Brooks to fame. And, of course, à la Alfred Hitchcock, Nerys Rees makes her own scantily clad appearance as Marlene Dietrich, provoking more than a few chuckles.

Although the play’s subject is perhaps a little esoteric, Davies peppers the dialogue with enough context to not lose anyone along the way. Younger theatregoers (unless aficionados of silent cinema, of course) may not be downright enthralled, but if you’re up for a sprawling bio-play of one woman’s experiences of fame and (mis)fortune, you’ll be in for a treat.